Frightening and Tragic Confirmation

In my previous Cross-Currents post I made reference to the frightening and tragic “culture of death” that has engulfed large parts of the Palestinian population. In the comments section, a number of contributors went back and forth about the accuracy and fairness of this description (starting with #4).

As I read some of these comments I must admit that I found it hard to believe that anyone, regardless of background or affiliation, could deny this reality. One would have to be either willfully blind or dishonest not to acknowledge what is patently obvious.

As I noted in the original piece, the examples of this phenomenon – especially when surveying the broader world of radical Islam – are in fact too numerous to catalogue. But I am particularly struck by the depraved attitude that many Palestinian and Arab parents have taken towards the welfare of their children. This was what I was alluding to in my reference to the story of Mariam Farhat.

Particularly relevant – albeit unsurprising – is the recent transcript from MEMRI of the interview on Al-Aqsa TV (the Hamas channel) of two small children of a suicide bomber. If this is what they preach and what they encourage their children to do, it only follows that when mommy actually kills herself to kill Jews, her children would only be too happy.

And yet, the transcript is still chilling:

INTERVIEWER: What did mama do?
DHOHA: She committed martyrdom.
INTERVIEWER: She killed Jews, right? How many did she kill, Muhammad?
INTERVIEWER: How many Jews did mama kill?
MUHAMMAD: This many . . .
INTERVIEWER: How many is that?
INTERVIEWER: Do you love mama? Do you miss mama? Where is mama, Muhammad?
MUHAMMAD: In Paradise.

As Jay Nordlinger, the consistently eloquent defender of Israel, asks, so ominously, “If a society can do this to children — what can’t it do?”

This, I am sad to say, was exactly my point.

And hearing it articulated by a well respected writer, alas, brings me no comfort.

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7 Responses

  1. SM says:

    Bit unrealistic really. What should the interviewer ask the child? “Is your Mama a murderer”? Or “Is your Mama evil”? Or, “Is your Mama in hell forever”?

    I agree that the child is being exploited, but the exploitation lies in the interview itself, not in the answers. And the exploitation has a political purpose which may be linked to further martyrdoms or may, equally, be about resistance in a purely political form (we are all united even children) or represent one view only. As the author points out, this was the Hamas channel and the surviving parent was not (so far as can be ascertained) involved in the questionning – and although he doubtless gave consent to an interview it is impossible to know whether he was aware of what questions would be asked.

    The author’s difficulty with understanding a view which does not precisely equate to his own may arise from a failure to define his concepts. For example, what does “the broader world of radical Islam” actually mean? I don’t think I ever denied that some Palestinians (and fewer – but still some) Israelis are all too happy to see people die for the cause. Nor did I deny that some Palestinians (and perhaps some – but vanishingly few – Israelis) are prepared to commit suicide.

    But it is a huge step from that to “a culture of death”, for which the author provides no evidence at all. An opinion poll does not prove a culture. If it does then Israel has a culture of handing back territories and the USA has a culture of supporting the extension of the death penalty – neither of which are true I suspect.

    CC should not lend itself to ad hominem attacks. However upset the author is that people have the temerity to disagree with him it is pretty self-regarding to conclude in this context that “One would have to be either willfully blind or dishonest not to acknowledge what is patently obvious.”

    For the record, Rabbi Gottleib, I am neither of those things. As I have already had cause to make clear to another contributor, I have lost two close family members to terrorism in Israel – including one to a suicide bomber. I make an effort to understand and look for the best in other people as a direct result of that. And that includes “them” as well as “us”. Don’t knock that approach until you have tried it. And, however strongly you feel about your own infallibility, PLEASE don’t abuse those who disagree.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Numerous actual reported events support the points made in this article. If SM can produce any counterexamples from within the Fatah- and Hamas- administered areas, let’s see them now.

  3. DMZ says:

    “I make an effort to understand and look for the best in other people as a direct result of that. And that includes “them” as well as “us”. Don’t knock that approach until you have tried it.”

    Are you sure that you’re not looking so hard that, when you don’t find what you’re looking for, you claim you did anyways? Sorry to say it, but willful blindness isn’t a bad term for that, and I completely see where he’s coming from on this. “Benefit of the doubt” goes only so far – when someone’s certainly sinning, for instance, you’re not under some obligation to ignore that.

    As for him not trying to find the best in other people, give him more credit. I know him personally, and I don’t think he deserves that – he tries his best. The fact that he’s not taking your position about how Palestinian culture is peace-loving doesn’t mean he assumes the Palestinians are evil monsters, full stop. Try applying some of that benefit of the doubt to the rabbi, maybe?

    I do agree that the interview example was lame. I mean, obviously, this interviewer was leading the kids on. But that doesn’t make it a bad example of a culture of death, either, I should point out. That’s some ugly propaganda…

  4. Dovid Gottlieb says:

    SM –
    Thank you for taking the time to read my posts and for your comments.

    A number of points of clarification and in response are in order:

    First, while I do think that the answers of these children is revealing (see the entire transcript for even more radical Q and A) I agree that the interview itself is part of the problem (as mentioned by DMZ). In fact, that itself is my point.

    When a TV station – run by the ruling governmental party no less! – interviews kids in this fashion, that’s a reflection of the societal values. Not only is there no record of the father’s objections, there is no record of any objections to the interview.

    Without belaboring the point, just ask yourself a simple question: can you imagine anything comparable happening on Israeli TV? Or American? Or for that matter, in any other civilized country?

    [Of course, the horrifying pictures we have all seen of little boys and girls dressed up as suicide bombers or Hamas terrorists are a vivid example of the point I was making.]

    Second, if there are unclear or undefined concepts then I apologize. I thought I was clear but perhaps I was not.

    My point in the original essay (generally and especially regarding children) was that what is particularly ghastly about the predominant Palestinian attitude isn’t their willingness to die for their cause when all else fails, but their celebration of death. Death isn’t just a price one is willing to pay but has even become a goal to aspire towards.

    Many people, in all cultures – including our own – are willing to die in the name of a higher cause. This, I believe, is a morally neutral stance; dependent on the morality of the cause one is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for.

    So, for example, Roi Kelin hy”d was willing to die in Lebanon this past summer in order to save his fellow soldiers and to serve the greater goal of protecting the land and people of Israel. I believe that to be a noble cause and therefore I view his willingness to die with only admiration and appreciation.

    However, choosing to kill oneself in the process of murdering other innocent people is, to my mind, something vastly different. And when such people are lionized and admired by their nation and culture, then I believe that the society as a whole is guilty of something terribly immoral.

    Third, I never wrote or assumed that everything in the Israeli culture is perfect. Far from it.

    But not only is there no comparison between the mainstream elements of Israeli and Palestinian society, even the most radical elements in Israel (which by, the way, I do not support) do not embrace death as a goal in the way we are talking about.

    Fourth, I assume (or, at least, hope) that there are Palestinians who are not as radicalized. But it seems abundantly clear to me that they are not representative of the larger cultural attitude.

    While I cannot know precise percentages, I think that’s beside the point.

    Whatever percentage of the population these more moderate Palestinians make up, they are not the voices we hear and they are not the voices that are admired and they are not the voices that are elected to lead the people.

    Fifth, I don’t believe that either of my pieces were an attack on anyone and they were certainly not ad hominem. I never said – nor do believe – that I am infallible or that it takes temerity to disagree with me. I do believe that the facts are, tragically, overwhelming, and speak for themselves.

    Finally, I am deeply saddened that you have lost family members to acts of terror. I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and pain your family has suffered. I pray that you and your family be granted a measure of nechamah.

    As I said in my initial piece, I pray that the time will come soon when these discussions become academic and that we all enjoy the blessings of shalom.

  5. SM says:

    Rabbi Gottlieb,

    Thank you for your response. Of course I agree that the celebration of death is deeply disturbing and entirely disgusting. And I also agree that even the most radical fringe of Israeli society does not embrace it as the Palestinians do.

    Where I disagree is that the fact that it happens, and that there are interviews about it, demonstrates that there is a genuine culture of death. It suggests to me that there are powerful forces who, for their own revolting political and personal motives are prepared to seduce and manipulate the credulous. And that Palestinian society – being poor, uneducated, ill-informed and resentful – contains plenty of credulous people. But in such a society, those who make the noise are not necessarily the majority nor represent the actual thoughts of the majority.

    So I don’t think I am finding something that isn’t there because I can’t confront the truth that everyone thinks like that (pace DMZ). Nor do I propose to get into anecdote or reportage (sorry Bob) because everyone sees what they want to see. However, one of my (very MO) family makes his living by going into the Palestinian territories at night and rescuing informants. And he says that if they were all paid turncoats or blackmailed criminals he wouldn’t risk his skin. I’m prepared to take his word for it – as is his wife and his 3 kids.

    I agree that we don’t hear moderate Palestinian voices. And I take the view that Israel must bear some responsibility for that. Not entire responsibility, but some. We do not provide enough economic opportunity and we put the squeeze on. I understand why but I disagree. We create the conditions under which the unscrupulous operate. Full stomachs and brains filled with thoughts of business development don’t think about terrorism.

    Please understand – that does not equate to saying Israel is to blame. Ultimately responsibility is first personal, then religious (in the Middle East anyway), then societal and only then international. But we could do more than we are doing and I think we should be doing – for us and for them.

    I apologise if my earlier comments sounded angry. Winston Churchill said, “don’t speak when you’re angry. You’ll make the best speech you ever regret.” I do try not to be angry and I try to believe in God as well – if only He didn’t make it so difficult but there you go. Thank you for the tone of your response anyway. And I’m with you on the prayer that this is all academic as soon as it can be.

    Finally, if you had relatives in Sheffield UK let me know. We may even be related. Nice for me if not for you!

  6. One Christian's perspective says:

    Having read all comments which I believe were written by individuals who have very seriously considered this ‘culture of death’ from many angles, I was wondering if this could really be a culture of ‘fear’ that breeds and promotes evil in the guise of death as a badge of honor and praise. Where people are powerless to protest deeds of violence (their own life and family members would meet violent death) , a culture of fear thrives and in that, evil ones of society rule and reign. Most recently, we have seen the tentative release of this tension with the invasion of Iraq, the captive of Saddam and the execution of Saddam. At each stage, there was a bit more glimmer of hope and a release of some powerlessness. If we are honest and courageously seek how modern societies do in fact function, we can discover this culture of fear in virtually every nation in every season.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    It’s not just a general culture of fear. It is a very specific fear. Ever since the Intifada started over twenty years ago, the radical Palestinians have been torturing and murdering/executing “collaborators” (= anybody who did not support them wholeheartedly). Israel failed to protect them.

    The west used to have such a culture of fear too. Dissent didn’t use to be ridiculed, it used to be a crime. If now we don’t, it’s because of rivers of ink and rivers of blood that were spilled to secure our freedoms, at places like Runnymede (the Magna Carta) and Valley Forge (US independence).

    Until Arabs do the same, their societies are going to continue to be ruled by the most ruthlessly violent.

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